Driving sustainability at Mauna Kea Golf Course

Aubrey McCormick
The goal at Mauna Kea Resort, pictured here, is to be a leader within the community, golf and hospitality industries.

Emerging leaders within the golf industry are starting to align with sustainability because it makes good business sense and benefits the local community and environment.

I had the opportunity to work with Mauna Kea Golf Course & Beach Hotel, a Prince Resort Property in Hawaii, on developing its first sustainability-focused case study (PDF), which aligns with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the Hawaii 2050 Sustainability Plan (PDF).

Mauna Kea Golf Course stepped up to implement sustainability focused initiatives before we even completed the project. For example, during its annual Tommy Bahama Golf Tournament on the infamous Par 3 third hole — situated on a pristine oceanside location — guests arriving to play the hole were challenged to carry the ball over the water.

When golfers hit shots into the water, it puts natural habitat and biodiversity at risk because every golf ball that lands in the water ends up being carried by waves, crashing into the lava rock and dispersing microplastics, which can harm marine life and water purity.

By working with Director of Golf Josh Sillman, we created an "Ocean Plastic Awareness" initiative where we handed players biodegradable golf balls before they teed off.

The Ecobioball is 100 percent biodegradable and turns into fish food after only 48 hours.

It was encouraging to see the participation of the players and their eagerness to learn how to lower their impact on the environment and why it's an important initiative. A few golfers were reluctant to try; one specifically hit a "normal" golf ball directly into the ocean just to spite the efforts. The good news, though, is the initiative raised over $1,000 for Hospice of Hawaii in only a few hours.

There’s more details in Embracing Sustainability at Mauna Kea Case Study. As you’ll see, it features the methodology behind preserving historic island traditions, benchmarking progress and driving sustainable impact long-term for members, guests, locals and the planet.

The case study features the strategy, community engagement, native environment conservation, employee stewardship, responsibility toward protecting the planet and an explanation of how the golf course is planning for the future to align with organizations committed to sustainability.

Mauna Kea Resort is a prime example of how a golf course can be a catalyst for growth and positive change in the community, especially when aligning to sustainable business goals that benefit people, planet and profit. The resort is taking steps to lower its greenhouse gas emissions by shifting to hybrid fleet vehicles and investing in environmental management systems to manage natural resources more efficiently.

Additionally, its goals include reducing water consumption 20 percent by 2020 by integrating saltwater-savvy grass species such as paspalum, which makes up 40 percent of the golf course.

It's essential for golf courses to collaborate with "outside the golf industry" environmental organizations in order to shift the paradigm to a more sustainable industry. Mauna Kea collaborated with numerous community organizations such as the Coral Reef Conservation and University of Hawaii at Hilo to conduct a study that has helped gauge coastal waters in the Puako community and the potential impact from sewage on coral reefs in the vicinity.

It's clear that Mauna Kea is dedicated to sharing its journey, and when this becomes the standard in the golf industry, we can drive measurable impact by being more transparent and meeting people where they are.

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